The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
Almost impossible to put down, this emotionally intense first novel is a compelling, character-driven story. Doris, 96, pages through her address book in her Stockholm apartment, remembering people encountered throughout her life in order to share her stories with Jenny, her American great-niece. Over the years, Doris experienced poverty and loss, but also love and luxury, having worked as a maid and a Parisian model, helped raise her niece and great-niece, and kept house for an artist friend. Jenny chats with Doris weekly but is kept too busy caring for her young family to remember her earlier dreams of being a writer. When Jenny and her young daughter fly to Sweden to visit Doris, she tries to find out what happened to Doris’ long lost love. A charming, ultimately heartwarming read.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Ove, a newly retired railway worker in Sweden, can fix many things, but not his heart. He is grumpy yet loveable, and doesn’t see the point in living without his wife Sonja or his job. Gradually Ove finds out that he is needed: first to back up a trailer, then to fix a radiator and a ceiling fan, to rescue a cat, drive neighbors to the hospital, and even to give driving lessons. His new neighbors, Parvaneh and Patrick, along with their two young daughters, help Ove break out of his shell. Gradually the reader sees that there’s more to Ove than complaining about rule-breakers and government bureaucrats, and learns about his childhood and his unlikely marriage to always late Sonja, as well as regular feuds with neighbor Rune, who prefers Volvos to Saabs. It took me quite a while to warm up to this book of mixed sadness, warmth, and humor, but I’m very glad I kept reading until I did. A movie, hugely popular in Sweden, may be coming to this country soon, and Ove is sure to gain more fans when it does. Readalikes include The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Elsa is a seven-year-old living in an apartment building in a Swedish city. Elsa is too smart to fit in, and her best friend is her eccentric grandmother, who makes up fairy tales. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent on a quest to find and deliver letters to the residents of her apartment building, including a huge dog. The story is bittersweet, with funny and very sad moments. I skimmed some of the short fairy tale sections, but overall found the book charming and hard to put down. The characters are quirky and memorable, especially Elsa’s divorced parents and a man called Wolfheart. Some reviewers have compared the author to Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.